Christianity 201

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

April 28, 2018

Justly, Kindly, Humbly

Today we’re introducing you to a writer appearing for the first time here at C201. Martha Anderson has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com as she explains at her site:

One is “Food for the Soul,” and it takes you through forty-five Old Testament daily devotionals, complete with some explanation and application questions. The second was just finished, “More Food for the Soul,” with seventy-eight New Testament daily devotionals…There are also three books that take you chronologically through Jesus’ life, “Jesus Changes Everything and He is Changing Me.” The 4th one takes you through the book of Acts.

To learn more click this link. Click the title below to read today’s devotional at source. I’ve added a song at the end which is based on today’s key scripture.

How to please God

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

The prophet Micah was asking about how to please God in Micah 6.  He asked if he should come before God with thousands of animals for burnt offerings or ten thousands of rivers of oil to burn incense as a fragrant offering.   In today’s terms we might ask if we should go to church three times a week, become a missionary, or give all of your money to a good cause.

No, the answer is still the same.   God gives a picture of His true heart for how we should live in a way that pleases Him.  We should pursue justice, to love kindness and to be humble.  God’s answer to Israel and to us is today’s verse:  pursue justice, love kindness and be humble before God and others.

We find a similar response in Isaiah 58.  In that chapter, God told the people of Israel that even though they sought Him daily and even fasted to be religious, it didn’t amount to much.  God told them if they really wanted to please Him they should end wickedness, oppression, and injustice, to feed the hungry and take in the homeless.

The justice that we are to pursue isn’t just for ourselves; it is for those who have no voice.  It might be for those who don’t have the financial resources to get a good lawyer, or for children and the unborn.   God wants us to see others that are not as well off as we are and find ways to help them.

We are not to get confused and to think that ‘social justice’ is the Gospel, as some movements do.   But if I live a grace and truth filled, joyful and Jesus centered life–that should make me different. It should make me incredibly generous, and quick to embrace the messy people who have more needs than I can meet. I should be looking for ways to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

My eyes should always be looking outward, not in at my own safe little heterogeneous group or navel gazing at myself. One of my capstone verses is John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.”

Micah 6:8 mentions both justice and kindness. Synonyms for kindness are: gentleness, affection, warmth, concern and care.   This is a fruit of the Spirit, so as I am walking in the Spirit, kindness should be front and center. That slogan about practicing ‘random acts of kindness’ is kind of funny. Really, we should be practicing ‘intentional and well thought out acts of kindness on a regular basis.’ But that doesn’t make for a good t-shirt slogan.

Finally, God wants us to be humble.  It is easier to think about the opposite trait, which is pride.  James 4:6 tells us, “God oppose the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And in Philippians 2:3 Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  As Tim Keller said in The Art of Self Forgetfulness, “It’s not that you think less of yourself, it’s that you think of yourself less.” That’s what God is looking for. The thing about humility is that when you achieve it, no one will notice!

If you want to know how to please God, here it is: stand up for someone who can’t speak for him or herself, do an intentional and well thought out act of kindness daily, and make sure you don’t get the credit for it.

November 22, 2017

Changing Values in our World

Today I want to introduce you to Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him. This is a goldmine of devotional resources and new content has been faithfully posted daily since February 2012. Deciding which article to showcase here was so tough that I’m presenting two. Click the individual titles to read at source.

Don’t Go There or Else

There is a new movement emerging from members of the media, seeking to destroy naysayers, opponents and those possessing opposing worldviews.  This rush to judgment ignores the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  Instead of waiting until the facts to come out during a trial, the severity of recent accusations are more than enough to presume guilt.  Where did this mentality come from and what does the Bible say to address this issue?

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.

According to David, God does not treat human beings as they deserve.  According to Psalm 103:12, God’s love is infinite, “as far as the east is from the west.”  If God is willing to show forgiveness, grace and mercy to undeserving sinners, why is the mainstream media so quick to condemn.  Have the elite been offended by conservatives in the past?  Is this recent response some sort of pay back for previous hypocritical actions?  Whatever the reason, sometimes you have to use common sense by replying, “don’t go there.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, Matthew 18:21-22.

There was an unspoken belief that forgiveness should be limited in the first century.  Sensing a good opportunity to address this topic, Jesus shares the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Attempting to shatter any stereotypes on forgiveness, Jesus illustrates God’s mercy on those who are unable to pay back earthly debts accrued over time.  God the Father bestows grace on those who beg for mercy.  Yet, lip service is disregarded unless individuals reciprocate mercy by doing to others as you want others to do unto you.  In other words, don’t go there or else.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins, Matthew 6:14-15.

The or else part of this equation was addressed by Jesus earlier in the book of Matthew.  At the conclusion of the portion of Scripture known as the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, Jesus emphasizes the conditional aspect of forgiveness.  Yes, I did say conditional, based upon how you treat other people.  In next chapter, Matthew 7 builds upon this concept proclaiming, ” the measure to which you judge others will be used against you.”  Therefore, despite whatever differences you may have against others, make sure your remember to live out the Golden Rule.  Don’t seek revenge or the grace of God will turn it’s back on you.

Character Education

As societies evolve, the meaning of words change to reflect this evolution.  In the early stages of American history, character referred to personality, nature and qualities.  One of the synonyms for character is ethos, where we derive the Greek term ethics.  Ethics is the system of philosophy where individuals develop their basis for defining right and wrong.  Today, character education focuses on an initiative to foster global citizenship.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out, Proverbs 10:9.

Based upon the United Nations global education initiative, character education is based upon three core philosophies: humanism, socialism and utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism teaches actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.  Socialism advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  Finally, humanism denies the presence of a Creator, seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems.  Signed by former president Obama, this curriculum is now being implemented into public education within K-12 schools across the country.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, Romans 12:2.

When I first heard of Character Education on the Rush Limbaugh Show, I thought this sounds good, a step in the right direction.  Yet, as I began to hear and read more about this as a former teacher, I was horrified.  This attempt to erase the biblical influences within the foundation of America is unsettling.  Nonetheless, unless parents begin to challenge what their children are being taught, the true history of America will be forgotten.  May this blog awaken believers to stand up to this indoctrination by studying and teaching God’s divine intervention upon the founding fathers of this country.

January 11, 2017

Becoming a Person Given to Hospitality

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT Genesis 19:1 That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”

“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”

3 But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate

I’ll grant you the above story doesn’t end well, but it was referred to by today’s writer, so I’ve included it. Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Bible Universe. In addition to the article — click the link below to read at site — I’ve also included a link to some additional resources they offer at the end of today’s reading.

Importance of Hospitality

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

In the twilight two strangers drew near to the city gate. They were apparently travelers coming in to tarry for the night. None could discern in those humble wayfarers the mighty heralds of divine judgment, and little dreamed the gay, careless multitude that in their treatment of these heavenly messengers that very night they would reach the climax of the guilt which doomed their proud city. But there was one man who manifested kindly attention toward the strangers and invited them to his home.

Lot did not know their true character, but politeness and hospitality were habitual with him; they were a part of his religion–lessons that he had learned from the example of Abraham. Had he not cultivated a spirit of courtesy, he might have been left to perish with the rest of Sodom. Many a household, in closing its doors against a stranger, has shut out God’s messenger, who would have brought blessing and hope and peace.

Every act of life, however small, has its bearing for good or for evil. Faithfulness or neglect in what are apparently the smallest duties may open the door for life’s richest blessings or its greatest calamities. It is little things that test the character. It is the unpretending acts of daily self-denial, performed with a cheerful, willing heart, that God smiles upon. We are not to live for self, but for others. And it is only by self-forgetfulness, by cherishing a loving, helpful spirit, that we can make our life a blessing. The little attentions, the small, simple courtesies, go far to make up the sum of life’s happiness, and the neglect of these constitutes no small share of human wretchedness.

Seeing the abuse to which strangers were exposed in Sodom, Lot made it one of his duties to guard them at their entrance, by offering them entertainment at his own house. He was sitting at the gate as the travelers approached, and upon observing them, he rose from his place to meet them, and bowing courteously, said, “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night.” They seemed to decline his hospitality, saying, “Nay; but we will abide in the street.”

Their object in this answer was twofold–to test the sincerity of Lot and also to appear ignorant of the character of the men of Sodom, as if they supposed it safe to remain in the street at night. Their answer made Lot the more determined not to leave them to the mercy of the rabble. He pressed his invitation until they yielded, and accompanied him to his house.


Earlier I mentioned there would be a bonus link today to some other resources at Bible Universe. First of all some general interest ones:

  • Keys to Bible Symbols — a great help if you’re wanting to follow the thread of various “types” used in scripture or in terms of literary imagery.
  • Keys to Bible Numbers — similar to the above, but dealing with the meaning of different numbers.

Also, do you know a Christian who is also a medical doctor? Bible Universe (dot com) recently ran a series of three short devotionals to encourage people in that profession.

01/03/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #3

01/02/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #2

01/01/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #1

December 15, 2016

The Prayer That Looks Inward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25

So far we’ve said there are two nouns which are repeated in the common recitation of The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. But there’s also a third word, a verb, which you could argue appears twice; its repetition necessary to the simile it sets up.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.– Matthew 6:12

I want to focus on the word forgive today, so try not be distracted by whether or not you prefer debts or trespasses.

A few of the translations play around with the verb tense on this, but they are fairly unanimous in keeping the word forgive. (Exception is The Jubilee Bible: “And set us free from our debts, as we set free our debtors.”)

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also forgave our debtors. (DLNT)
  • and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (ESV and others)
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. (Voice)
  • Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

There are several petitions in this prayer — for daily bread, to not be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil — but the request for forgiveness is conditional. The best example of a conditional promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There God is telling his people that if there is a drought, or if there is a plague, if they do X first, God will do Y.

This is also reminiscent of Matthew 10:8, but in the reverse.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (NLT)

In this case it is implied that God has already done Y and now invites you to be an agent of X being received by someone else.

But we can’t twist that into a principle that would apply here as God saying something like, ‘I’ve already forgiven you so now you can freely forgive others.’ Rather, the text would point to something closer to, ‘If you want to experience my forgiveness, you’ll have to know first what it like to have forgiven others.’

There is of course the grace which goes before; what is termed prevenient grace. GotQuestions.org defines it as

a phrase used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” By definition, every theological system which affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion has a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

Romans 5:8 reminds us that in terms of big picture forgiveness, what we experience when we come to Christ for the first time, God has already made the way; the pardon and peace is there, we just need to claim it:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to our primary text.

The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer verse is probably the best as it would indicate an ongoing process, a chain of grace, where we are constantly experiencing forgiveness ourselves, and meting out that forgiveness to others.

There’s also a sense here that, ‘you know (hopefully) what it is like to forgive someone for something, so you know how God forgives you.’

Again, while we’re looking at a New Testament text, Jesus was teaching this prayer in an Old Testament world. We’ve been using BibleStudyTools.org for this series, and the entry for the Hebrew word Callach meaning both ready to forgive and forgiving makes reference to Psalm 86:5

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

God’s predilection for forgiveness is something he is ready to do. But how long do we keep forgiving people who owe us (debts) or have injured us (trespasses)? Jesus answers that in Matthew 18:22

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The NIV rendering of Luke 17:4 is even more explicit on the degree of forbearance being demanded of us:

…Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Proverbs 19:11b reminds us that the quality of forgiveness is an essential part of our character:

…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense

Finally, James 2, 11-12 reminds us that it is essential to be an agent of mercy if we wish to experience it ourselves:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who received immeasurable forgiveness but failed to do the same for one who owed him a lesser amount. May that never be said of us.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scriptures all NIV except where indicated


Darlene Merenick is a Canadian singer who died all too young a few years ago. I was able to hear this song performed live several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2, 2016

The Limits to Mercy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Occasionally we get a referral to an article on a blog which is new to us, only to discover the author has stopped writing. Still we wanted to share this February article with you today. This is a simply written response to a tough question that acknowledges its complexities. To read this at source click the title below. The author is Albert Wagner.

Is There A Limit To God’s Mercy?

This America can be a messed up place.

You can witness it on any given day.

People, while claiming to have their own reasons, go and repeatedly do the wrong thing – willfully and stubbornly, sometimes – while knowing deep down it is wrong.

They continue this process with the thought that a loving God will forgive them, because it states that in Scripture.

Sometimes the sin is minor (such as a white lie) and sometimes it is more significant (such as repeated cheating on a spouse).

But, in this case doing the wrong thing means the person knew better deep down. It might harm them financially or regarding their health, to use a few other examples, but it does not matter to them.

Some go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness and some don’t.

But the question for a spiritual blog is this:

Will God keep forgiving the same sin, or there a limit to God’s Mercy?

Jesus And Forgiving Sins

To begin with, here might be the thought process (for a Christian).

The Bible says that God forgives sin through the work of Jesus Christ. God is loving and wants his Creation to be saved.

1 John 1:8 reads,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus was asked by the disciples how many times they should forgive someone. Jesus said,

I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

 So, there it is in the Bible. It sounds like God will forgive your sin, as long as you repent.

After all, sinning is often the easier choice, even if it means pain later.

People might think that as long as they end up in heaven in the long term, then what does it hurt anyone to sin now? They think in their minds that, as long as they end up in the same place, what does it hurt to sin?

A Life Of Sin

So what is there to stop you from going and sinning repeatedly, with the idea that you will be forgiven?

Limits to God's MercyIn fact, Scripture is clear those who do not live a changed life and habitually continue in sin are not true believers.

There is also a matter of interpretation.

Take Matthew 12:31, which reads,

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

And, though this is a hard verse for some, one interpretation states this is speaking of those who do not repent. That means sincerely repenting, changing what you do and living a life of faith. It involves more than sitting in a church pew for one hour a week on Sunday.

Another relevant verse pertaining can be found in Matthew 5:48, where it reads,

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Please also remember that Scripture mentions the concept of hell in several places. However one interprets this idea, it sounds like God does have some limits on those who repeatedly do the wrong thing.

And, please remember: A person can have eternal salvation, yet still experience consequences of sin. Humans might not understand how that works, but it is important to consider.

In addition to these things, It is also said if you are aware of your sins and they bother you, then the Holy Spirit is working and speaking to you. This is a good thing. It is better to have your sin bother you than to sin with no remorse.

All in all, one should be careful in ascertaining these things, as your eternal salvation is dependent on it. That might sound obvious, but it might be worth pondering.

Scripture is not intended to be black and white, but something to be pondered.

You still have time to change, because as humans we are all probably guilty of this at one time or another.

Yes, God wants you to repent. However, he also wants you to continue to live a life of faith like he directed in the Gospels.

In the end, though, God is the judge and it is not based on human reasoning.

The opinion of the author is to try to be aware of your sins and repent.

 

May 10, 2016

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Joel

If you haven’t already seen the fine work being done on video by The Bible Project, we couldn’t help observe that this is a perfect fit for us at Christianity 201. This overview of the writing of Joel (one of the ‘The Twelve’ or what we call the minor prophets) provides a great overview of this book.

Note: I would love to post the whole series here, but I know you come here daily for a teaching or inspirational writing that is written out in words, and some devotional websites can easily get lazy and just post videos. Still, feel free to use the comments or the contact page to let me know how this works for you. And really consider checking out The Bible Project on YouTube (link above) or subscribing to the channel.

January 18, 2015

What Grace Looks Like

John 8:3a The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, read verses 2-11 by clicking here.

At the end of several of the chapters of Rick Apperson’s book Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ there is a section called “What I Learned on the Way to the Resurrection.” These are teachable moments gained from some rather unpleasant church experiences. To learn more about Rick and the book, visit his blog, Just a Thought.

Those caught in the act of sin need to hear and see God’s grace in action.

Who knows what was running through the woman’s mind? As she was dragged into the street where Jesus stood, the Pharisees began eagerly sharing the woman’s sin with Jesus and the people around Him. The woman had sinned. She had been caught in the act—the very act!—of adultery.

Killed by the Church Resurrected By Christ - Rick Apperson“Moses said that, according to the law, she should be stoned,” one of the Pharisees said.

“What do you say, Jesus?”

Stooping down, Jesus took His finger and began writing on the ground.

Again, He was questioned. “What do you say? Should this woman be stoned?”

Jesus stood up and, looking around, said to the scribes and Pharisees, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

With that proclamation, Jesus returned to writing on the ground.

The crowd of accusers drifted away until no one was left. Jesus then stood again and asked the woman if there was anyone left to condemn her. When the woman replied, “No,” His response to her echoes as a lesson to us all. “I don’t condemn you either. Go and sin no more.”

I love this passage from John 8. It is one of hope and mercy, grace and truth! Note that Jesus didn’t condone her sin. He told her, in fact, to stop sinning! However, He showed her grace and mercy while also addressing those who would condemn her.

The accusations laid against her weren’t wrong, but the heart motive of her accusers was. Sadly, my motivations weren’t always pure when I confronted someone about their sin. You can also see a poor demonstration of how to treat someone caught in sin when I wrote about my church’s response to the unwed mother.

I think we struggle in the church with how to respond to those whose sin is glaringly obvious. We seem to forget Jesus died for them. His harshest words were for the religious people of the day. Pride and religiosity may be greater barriers to relationship with God than the things we tend to judge in our own minds.

Maybe we’re afraid that by demonstrating grace and mercy we will seem weak on sin. Need that be so? Jesus spoke to the heart, not to the behavior. As demonstrated in the John 8 story, He told her to sin no more, but by His act of mercy, He also demonstrated love!

There is a wonderful passage of Scripture found in Matthew 7:1–5 (NKJV).

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

If we would remember that we ourselves have sinned and been forgiven much, we would find it easier to extend grace to others.

So the next time you feel the need to “help” someone by pointing out their offense, swallow your spiritual pride, check your heart, and show the love of Christ! I say this recognizing that there will be times when we need to speak truth in love, showing a brother or sister their need to repent. Most often though, people know when they are sinning, and our kind words and actions can help them find their way back onto the path of righteousness. As I mentioned before, restoration and redemption should be the end goal. Our desire should be that of seeing a brother or sister restored in their relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

~Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ pp 26-28


Read a review of the book at Thinking Out Loud

September 26, 2014

Justice, Equality, Fairness and Jesus

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NRSV Matthew 20:8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 

In first introducing today’s writer last year, I explained that some blogs consist of pastors’ sermon notes written for churches that use the Lectionary as a guide to preaching. In these churches, the Evangelical concept of a sermon series in completely foreign; instead there are three or four prescribed readings for each Sunday, usually consisting an Old Testament reading, a Psalm , a selection from the gospels, and an excerpt from an Epistle.  (These vary somewhat by tradition and some denominations send out an amended version to their ministers.)  The pastor then chooses one of the texts to form the basis of the weekend sermon.

That’s the case with the blog ForeWords written by Rich Brown.  Click the title below to read at source and discover more Lectionary based sermons.

Live the Gospel

Parable of the LaborersHeritage Day (Community of Christ)
Ordinary Time (Proper 20)
Exodus 16:2–15; Psalm 105:1–6, 37–45; Philippians 1:21–30; Matthew 20:1–16

Those of us who’ve lived our entire lives in countries where justice, equality under the law, and fairness are considered the bedrock of society tend to forget that the kingdom of God preached by Jesus is not a reflection of the world we’ve created. But then, neither are our democratically oriented cultures necessarily an imitation of the heavenly kingdom. And that’s one of the reasons why so many of us may have a tough time with Jesus’ parable at the beginning of Matthew chapter 20.

If we were to hear about a comparable tale here in the 21st century our first response might well be that those vineyard workers sure needed a strong union seeking a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement. It is, after all, patently unfair that those workers toiling all day in the field–no doubt under a hot Judean sun–got the same amount of pay as the ones brought to the fields in late afternoon who had worked only an hour or two. Matthew recounts that this is not just a 21st-century concern:

“Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’” –Matt. 20:10-12 NRSV

Parables, it must always be remembered, are not literal storytelling; they are stories told to get across greater, deeper truths. And so this isn’t a story about unfair working conditions. Certainly in our own day–as in Jesus’ time–workers are exploited. We Christians should be in the forefront of those seeking an end to such abuse. This story/parable is about something quite different. It’s about the kingdom of God, which is based on grace not fairness.

The landowner in the parable (presumably a stand-in for God) made it clear that he set the rules and established the relationship with the workers. In kingdom-of-God terms, this is not a contractual arrangement; it is instead a covenant:

“Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” –vs. 13-16

Many of us Christians have an unfortunate tendency to think that God loves us more than all the rest of humanity–or at least that God places us at the front of the line for eternal blessings because we’re followers of Jesus. But we must remember that we’re not the first to be “chosen” by God. That belongs to the literal descendants of Abraham and Sarah: the Jews. Yes, that covenant is still in force. Check out what the apostle Paul has to say about that topic in Romans chapter 11.

With that in mind, then, who might those late-afternoon workers in God’s vineyard be: why, that would be us Christians. An uncomfortable thought perhaps for many of us. And it might be even more squirm-inducing if we Christians are actually the mid-day workers who were added. If that’s the case, then God may well be planning to add even more to the divine fold. But, but, but…we might protest. How unfair of God to invite those we casually term “unbelievers” (or heathens or any number of other less complimentary terms) into God’s presence. Once more: it’s not about fairness, it’s all about grace.

God, being the generous Creator God is, was, and always will be, can expand the boundaries of the so-called “chosen” for whatever reason God so desires. Among other things, that puts to shame our “Christian” tendency to point judgmental fingers at others, deciding on our own who’s in and who’s out, who’s saved and who’s damned. In fact, this could just change everything.


I really loved the idea in the 2nd last paragraph that perhaps many of us are the mid-day workers — or even late day workers — in the story. Think for a moment; how might that fit individually or corporately?

 

November 16, 2013

Prodigal Son Parable Changes the Paradigm

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The Lost Son Returns:

(NIV)Luke 15:20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

In the new book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson writes:

Pete Wilson - Let Hope InJesus’ audience continued to listen to him tell the story of the prodigal son, and they had been surprised so far, but now they were thinking, Well, the dad let his son make his own choice.  He was so overwhelmed when his son came home that he actually ran to him, but we know how this story is going to end.

From the Jerusalem Talmud, it is known that the Jews during the time of Jesus had a method of punishing any Jewish boy who lost the family inheritance to Gentiles.  It was called the “qetsatsah ceremony”.  Such a violator of community expectations would face the qetsatsah ceremony if he dared return to his home village.

The ceremony was simple: The villagers would bring a large jar, fill it with burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual.  While doing this, the community would shout, “So-and-so is cut off from his people.”  From that point on, the village would have nothing to do with them.

This was a religious ceremony designed to publicly embarrass and humiliate the person guilty of wrongdoing.  And the people listening to this story are waiting for this ending.  Sure the dad forgave the son, but the village is going to give the boy what he deserves.  They’re not going to overlook his dark past.  They’re not going to allow him to just forget where he was or who he had been.  But an amazing thing happens: the father trumps the humiliating and convicting ceremony by establishing his own.  “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.   Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24  NIV).

He does something his audience is not familiar with doing: wiping his son’s slate clean.  He says, “I know my son blew it.  I know he made some horrible decisions.  But this is between me and him.  He’s not an embarrassment to me.  You can come over to the house tomorrow, but instead of a ceremony of rejection, we’re participating in the joy of a restoration.”

~ Pete Wilson, Let Hope In: 4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever pp. 117-118 emphasis added

August 3, 2013

Two Things Jesus Never Says to the Suffering

This appeared last month at Reason for Change, the blog of Jayson Bradley; click through to read at source and check out other material there:

When I look at Jesus, I am seeing the exact representation of God’s character. Jesus, as Paul says, is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). And Christ himself makes a connection between knowing him and knowing the Father (Jn 14:7).

It’s important for me to understand that not only is Jesus the perfect revelation of what it means to be fully human, his behavior also reveals so much to me about the character and concerns of God. That’s why it’s always interesting to me to think about, not only what Jesus says, but what he doesn’t say.

Scripture records Jesus healing a lot of people. On top of that, Jesus sets many demonically oppressed individuals free. When you stop and contrast the way we interact with afflicted individuals with the way Jesus did, you see some amazing discrepancies.

Here’s two huge things Jesus never says to the suffering:

1. You’re to blame

When I think through the innumerable examples of the sick and demonized Jesus healed, I can not come up with one example where he lays blame at the feet of the afflicted. More often than not, he treats those suffering various maladies as victims.

When Jesus stands up in the synagogue and kicks off his ministry, he does so with the following words from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Lk 4:18–19)

Jesus came to lead a revolt against enemy forces who hold the world hostage. These forces have have subjected all of creation to the slavery of corruption. This corruption runs deep. Some of Jesus’ healings were about bringing order to that corruption, and some (exorcisms) were in direct confrontation with the enemy forces responsible for that corruption.

It does me good to see that Jesus never makes the demonized or afflicted carry the weight of guilt for their condition. He doesn’t accuse them of being punished or disciplined. Rather, he simply confronts their oppressor and sets them free.

2. It’s part of God’s plan

Maybe even more surprising is that Jesus never attributes the suffering of others to the mysterious will of God. As I said in the previous section, Jesus challenges each illness and act of demonic oppression as if their presence is a direct affront to God’s will. There is no moment where Jesus looks to the distressed and indicates that they suffer as part of God’s greater plan.

When Peter sums up Jesus ministry, he says this, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. . .” (Acts 10:38) And John sums up the works of Jesus as being “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Oppression and sickness were always treated as malevolent manifestations of a demonic kingdom.

The significance of what Christ didn’t say about the healings he performed is staggering. And although he ultimately destroyed the works of Satan on the cross, we still live in occupied territory. We are still routing the enemy, and dealing with a creation that is under slavery to corruption.

As we partner with Christ in redeeming all of creation to himself, our prayer matters. We are at work confronting the enemy in his strongholds, where he is at work killing, stealing, and destroying (Jn 10:10). We cannot afford to be attributing the oppression of the enemy to the mysterious work of the Lord.

In Luke Jesus says sums up his confrontation with evil this way, “When a strong manfully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder (Lk 11:21–22).”

The strong man is Satan, and creation is the house he’s guarding. Jesus came, confronted him throughout his ministry, and overpowered him at the cross. But we are still at work because the enemy is at work with great wrath because he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12).

Let’s attribute his nefarious work to the right source, and continue to confront him. Soon . . . soon we will be dividing up the spoils of victory.

January 6, 2012

…Then Why Do Good?

Doug Wolter posted this on his blog, and the synopsis at the end of the message is worth the price of admission; but if you have the 45 minutes, you get to watch a great message, too. It appeared on his blog under the title:

If I’m accepted in Christ, why do good?

by Doug Wolter

[Recently] I got to see Tullian Tchvidjian preach at Southern Seminary. I love his focus on the gospel of grace. Toward the end of his message he asked an interesting question: If Christ accepts me based on his righteousness and not mine, then what is my motivation to do good? In other words, if I have a great day, I’m accepted, if I have a bad day, I’m accepted. So why do good? He answered the question with a quote from Spurgeon:

When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.

In other words, the deeper I go into the gospel, the greater my motivation toward obedience. I encourage you to watch this message and be amazed again at God’s grace for desperate sinners like you and me.

October 28, 2011

Confronting Greed

As I write this, the “Occupy” protests are spreading around the world, and sadly, becoming more confrontational, as neighborhoods try to take back their public spaces, and police grow weary of trying to keep the peace, and the costs associated with so doing.

At the root of the protests is corporate and personal greed.  In many ways, the protests are borne out of the situation in the U.S., the other locations are merely copycat protests.  I don’t know the source of the stats which follow, but they purport to show the ratio between the take home pay of the average worker, and that of the average CEO:

At his blog, Dream Awakener, J. R. Woodward posts this classic prayer against greed in a blog item titled, Praying With Occupy Wall Street.

O Jesus, Who chose a life of poverty and obscurity; 

Grant me the grace to keep my heart detached from the transitory things of this world.

Let it be that henceforth, You are my only treasure, for You are infinitely more precious than all others possessions. My heart is too solicitous for the vain and fleeting things of earth.

Make me always mindful of Your warning words: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”

Grant me the grace to keep Your holy example always before my eyes, that I may despise the nothingness of this world and make You the object of all my desires and affections.

Amen.

What should the Christian’s response be to the Occupy movement?  I believe the answer is rooted in Micah 6:8

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God. (NLT)

 

August 20, 2011

Commandment Keeping: Prerequisite to God’s Favor, or Fruit of Grace?

More from the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law.  The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21).  This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe.  The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18).  This is what he is like.  His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy.  At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.”  The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here.  I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God.  The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God.  While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc.  That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation.  So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God.

April 7, 2011

Video Devotional By Warren Wiersbe

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I thought we’d hang on to Warren Wiersbe for another day, this time looking at a couple of video devotionals at YouTube. This one is based on Psalm 30.

Here’s another one, from Psalm 33. You’ll be one of the first people to watch this…

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